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Quayle: 2020-2021 Exhibit

RELIGION AND THE AMERICAN PRESIDENCY

Featuring the signed Bibles of the Quayle collection

Who Founded America?

Is America a Christian nation? What does separation of Church and State actually mean? When did the U.S. add “In God We Trust” to its currency? How far does Freedom of Religion extend? Does an American President have to be religious? These are long disputed topics in American politics and history. From Thomas Jefferson to Donald Trump, the religious belief of almost every American President has been called into question. In their various campaigns, Presidents have aligned themselves with religious groups in order to secure their candidacy. In light of the current election season, the 2020-2021 exhibit of the Quayle Bible Collection addressed many of these questions. The exhibit featured our collection of Bibles signed by every President from Franklin Delano Roosevelt to Barack Obama. The exhibit also displayed a signed photo of President Trump sent to the Quayle Bible Collection in honor of the National Day of Prayer.

In addition to the overview provided in each box below, you can use the arrow buttons to view collection items that were part of the exhibit.  If you click on the image or caption title, the image will be enlarged in a new tab with the option to zoom in further.

Early American Bibles

The founders of the United States knew the Bible well. Which editions they preferred may be a mystery. Thomas Jefferson read the Bible in at least four different languages: English, French, Latin, and Greek. Undoubtedly, the King James Bible is the most important biblical text for most of the early American colonists, whose families came from Britain. However, during the war, the King James Version was not easy to acquire and eventually it was published illegally by Robert Aitken. The Continental Congress approved his activities as a “pious and laudable act.” However, the Puritans of New England read the Geneva Bible and translated it into languages such as Eliot’s Algonquin. Then there is the Muhlenberg Legend. The legend states that the first Speaker of the House, Frederick Muhlenberg, was the deciding vote to prevent German from being the official language of the US. Even if the legend is not true, the assumption is that many of the founders had the ability to speak and read fluent German. This might suggest that Luther’s translation was much more important to some of the early founders than the King James Version.

Luther Bible

[Bible] Biblia, Luther. Germantown, PA : Christoph Saur, 1743.

Above is the first European translation of the Bible printed in America, Luther’s German Bible. A common narrative of this period in American History is that German almost became the official language of the United States. It is only logical that many of the supporters of that idea owned this edition of Luther.

leaf from Eliot’s Algonquin translation

[Leaf, New Testament] New history Testament our-Lord Jesus Christ our-deliverer, by John Eliot. Cambridge, MA: Samuel Green and Marmaduke Johnson, 1661.

Above is an image from Eliot’s Algonquin translation which is a piece of the oldest Bible translation printed in America.

King James Bible

[Bible] KJV. Philadelphia : Robert Aitken, 1781-1782.

Above is an image from the first ever King James Bible printed in America, which was printed through the permission of the Continental Congress.

Early Presidents and the Bible

The religion of the President of the United States is usually a contested issue. However, there were several presidents who were influenced by religion regardless of their belief. It is widely accepted that Thomas Jefferson was a Deist, believing that a creator made the natural world and then let it run on its own. As a result, Jefferson did not believe in “superstition” and especially miracles. However, he did believe in morality and ethics, and was concerned that most Christians cared more for the sacrifice of Jesus than his words. As a result, he simply cut all the miracles from the Gospels. Being the scholar that he was, he then compared all of the words of Jesus in four different languages. While many contemporary Protestant and Catholic Christians do not accept Unitarianism as being Christianity, some early Presidents were Unitarian, believing that Jesus was not necessarily divine. One such was the sixth: John Quincy Adams. He did, however, believe in the importance of the Bible and wanted to help spread biblical literacy, and he was involved in the American Bible Society at its founding. Maybe because of his chosen denomination, he chose not to swear on the Bible, and instead used the Constitution. The irony of swearing into office on the Bible is that the Bible discourages it.

Image of President Jefferson

Image of President Jefferson

The religious belief of the Founders and of early Presidents is often a hotly debated subject. Their knowledge of the biblical text is not. Regardless of their belief, most early Presidents had an extensive knowledge of the text. Thomas Jefferson, who most likely was a Deist, did not believe in miracles.

Jefferson Bible

[Gospel] Jefferson Bible. Washington Government Printing Office., 1820.

As a result, he created the “Jefferson Bible” where he razored out all the miracles in the four Gospels. He then compared various translations.

American Bible Society Bible

[Bible] KJV. NY : D. Fanshaw, the American Bible Society, 1819.

The Bible above was produced by the American Bible Society. This Society was created by several “Founding Fathers,” including Francis Scott Key, John Jay, and President John Quincy Adams. On the right is a Bible printed by the American Bible Society from the time of John Quincy Adams. This particular Bible was owned by William Boerum who embarked the seas upon the USS Constitution, the famous battle ship nicknamed Old Iron Sides.

19th Century America and the Bible

The 19th Century was a chaotic time in America. After the American Revolution, many Americans were taken with the idea that the United States was chosen by God. It had to be if it defeated the Divine Right monarch of Britain. Religious exploration and patriotism united and new religious movements began to spread. Joseph Smith believed that America was the new Israel, but more than that, he felt persecuted in many of the places his people went. When he ran for President in 1844, he hoped that the Latter-Day Saints church could support a candidate they trust, but also that the public would see Mormons in a better light. He was especially concerned for his flock that lived in Missouri, where their lives had been threatened and their property seized. His campaign ended abruptly when he was killed in Illinois, and America did not truly accept a Mormon candidate until Mitt Romney was nominated by the Republicans in 2012. In 1861, Abraham Lincoln became President before the chaos of the 19th century erupted in the apocalyptic Civil War, and he is another President whose religion is disputed. Although he was raised Baptist, he never seemed to join the church. However, he had an extensive knowledge of the Bible, and his life and presidency were full of tragedy and trying issues. Scholars are unsure if the Civil War and the death of his children turned him toward or away from religion. Regardless, he owned books like the devotional seen in this case, and he frequently appealed to religious sentiments and the Bible in his speeches, such as with the Gettysburg Address.

The Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon. Salt Lake City : Deseret Book Co., 1962.

Some know that Joseph Smith was the prophet and founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; however, many do not know that he ran for President. Smith believed that America was a “new Israel” that was blessed by God, which was a common idea of the 19th century. During his campaign, he was killed by an angry mob in Illinois, making him the first ever Presidential candidate killed on the campaign trail.

Abraham Lincoln’s Devotional

[Devotional] Abraham Lincoln’s Devotional Great Neck, New York: Channel Press, Inc, 1852.

Lincoln’s Devotional is a Christian inspirational book that dives into the abolitionist beliefs of the 16th President. This book features biblical scriptures and poems for every day of the year, divided by month into lessons.

Abraham Lincoln’s Devotional signed by President Lincoln

[Devotional] Abraham Lincoln’s Devotional Great Neck, New York: Channel Press, Inc, 1852.

While Lincoln’s religious belief is debated, he drew upon theological works and used theological language in many of his writings and speeches, such as his famous “Gettysburg Address.” Some scholars believe Lincoln felt religion caused more division than unification.

Hoover and FDR

Debate swirls around how devout President Herbert Hoover was. Like many other Protestants, he was a supporter of Prohibition, and legend says that as a Quaker, he would not swear on the Bible; however, old recordings of his inauguration prove otherwise. What we do know, is that Hoover refused to sign a Bible for the Quayle Bible Collection. It seems that he felt such an act was disrespectful or even irreverent, as seen in his letter to Hattie Osborne. However, he did send a Bible that was given to him that had his name printed in it. Is this the proof that Hoover was more devout Quaker than some scholars believe? Like Hoover, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s religious belief is not a certainty. He was a lifelong Episcopalian and he frequented church services; however, he did not always appeal to the Bible in speeches like Presidents before him, such as Woodrow Wilson. However, there are two instances where he emphasizes the belief of others. In a “Fireside Chat” in 1934 he mentions that belief (of all religions) unites people together as humans. In another instance, he approved that his signature be put on military-issued Bibles, knowing the importance that a Bible signed by the President would hold for soldiers fighting in World War II. The message written in the front of the Bible again suggests that he emphasizes the importance of believers of all religions.

Letter from Hoover's Office

[Letter] Letter from Bernice Miller, Secretary to President Hoover. November 23, 1945.

While Herbert Hoover will forever be known as the President during the Great Depression, his religious background is one that is shrouded in mystery. Hoover is the first Quaker President, but much of his religious belief was not discussed. However, the Quayle Bible Collection holds a small piece of his religious belief. He refused to sign a Bible for the collection. Instead, we were given one that had his name in the cover.

FDR Bible Message

[New Testament] KJV. New York: American Bible Society, ND.

Considering our first signed Bible came from Truman, we were not able to get an FDR Bible while he was alive. Regardless, his signature exists in several of the soldier’s Bibles from World War II. The image above shows one that contained not only the President’s signature, but it also had a message addressed from the White House for soldiers to bring into battle.

Truman and Eisenhower

Both President Truman and President Eisenhower hailed from a relatively close distance to Baker. For whatever reason, Harry S. Truman wrote extensively to the Quayle Bible Collection and to Baker President William Scarborough. In the letters, he often asked questions about Bible translations and the history of biblical editions. His Bible is the first one that was signed and sent to the Quayle, which started our tradition of collecting signed Bibles. The very worn Bible was his personal copy. In the front cover, he highlights Exodus 20 and Matthew 5:6-7 as the “code” all should live by. Exodus 20 is the Ten Commandments. The Matthew passage is from the Beatitudes that bless the hungry, those that thirst, and the merciful. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Bible is an interesting one. It has led many visitors to the Quayle to speculate that he was a Mason. However, looking at the date stamp in the text he had not long received this Bible from Colorado before he signed it and sent it to us. Unlike Truman (to our knowledge), Eisenhower did not have a formal relationship with the Quayle. Eisenhower did have an interesting religious background that led him to make two of the more controversial religious decisions made by a President of the 20th century.

Photograph of President Truman

Photograph of President Truman

Harry S. Truman was a very religious person. Like Jimmy Carter, he frequently taught Sunday School.

Letter from Harry S. Truman

[Letter] Letter from Harry S. Truman. December 2, 1963.

The Quayle Bible Collection and Baker President William Scarborough were lucky enough to have a relationship with the President. In many of his letters, like the one on the above, his theology came out, like his belief in the importance of the King James Bible. In the letter before you, Truman says that the King James Bible is the Bible that allowed common people to read the text. While this is not entirely factual, many Americans believe just like the President.

Oxford Self-Pronouncing Bible

[Bible] KJV. Oxford Self-Pronouncing Bible. London: Oxford University Press, ND.

Many of the Bibles were purchased or sent to the Presidents. Truman’s Bible was his personal one, which is evident in the wear and tear visible in the image above.

Photograph of President Eisenhower

Photograph of President Eisenhower

President Dwight Eisenhower seems to have been religious as a child and reaffirmed his belief during his Presidency.

The Blue Ribbon Bible

[Bible] KJV. The Blue Ribbon Bible. Chicago: The John A. Hertel Co., ND.

His Bible that was sent to us was a gift from a Masonic lodge in Colorado. Since he was not a Mason, he seemed to have no qualms with sending us this Bible.

JFK and LBJ

Many of the Presidents were sent Bibles to sign. Some signed whatever Bible they had on hand. John F. Kennedy hand selected his copy to sign for us. The Knox Bible edition was an updated translation of the Latin Vulgate published in 1950. As the first Catholic President of the United States, President Kennedy used translations of the Latin Bible like this one. Lyndon B. Johnson, who succeeded JFK, was a member of the Disciples of Christ. In order to secure his signature, the Quayle Bible Collection initially reached out to President Truman, considering both were Democrats. However, President Johnson eagerly signed the Bible for us on the National Day of Prayer. He was one of the first Presidents to sign on this day.

Photograph of President Kennedy

Photograph of President Kennedy

As the first Catholic President, John F. Kennedy’s religion was very much disputed during his campaign. There was a fear that many southern Democrats would not support him. However, he remained steadfast in his religious belief.

Knox Edition

[Bible] Knox Edition, Authorized by the Hierarchy of England and Wales and the Hierarchy of Scotland. New York: Sheed and Ward, Inc., 1944.

Much like Truman, he hand selected the Bible that was sent to us, and as one would imagine, it is an English translation of the Latin Vulgate, the Catholic Bible.

Letter from Ralph A. Dungan

[Letter] Letter from Ralph A. Dungan, Special Assistant to the President [JFK]. December 4, 1963.

Above is a letter from his assistant that shows he personally selected the text.

King James Bible

[Bible] KJV. New York: American Bible Society, ND.

Although Lyndon B. Johnson was not Catholic, he swore the Oath of Office on a Catholic Missal because it was the text readily available for the ceremony on Air Force One when JFK was assassinated. Instead as a member of the Disciples of Christ denomination, LBJ signed on a King James Bible.

Nixon and Ford

Like Herbert Hoover, Richard M. Nixon was a Quaker, and much like Hoover, there is a debate on how much this influenced his presidency. In the 70s, Nixon saw a rise of religious leaders who were aligning themselves with politics. These leaders, such as Jerry Falwell and Billy Graham, saw many of the social issues of America as moral and religious ones. Nixon used Billy Graham to secure the support of people that would become the “religious right.” Like Johnson, the signature for Nixon’s Bible was secured during the National Day of Prayer. This tradition was set originally by Harry S. Truman in 1952. Although it has been questioned by some, it continued to be a tradition even to today. Gerald Ford’s Bible was signed in June 1976. It was delivered to him by Larry Winn Jr., a Republican Representative from Kansas. Gerald Ford’s Bible is one of few for which we have a photograph of the actual signing event.

The New English Bible

[Bible] The New English Bible. London: Oxford University Press and Cambridge University Press, 1970.

Starting with Richard Nixon, the Quayle Bible Collection made an effort to have popular or new Bibles be signed by the Presidents. Both Nixon and Ford were in office during the release of the New English Bible. Although it was a British text, it was considered a scholarly text at the time. Nixon’s signature was secured during the National Day of Prayer, a tradition that began with Truman and has carried on to this day.

2019 National Day of Prayer Proclamation

2019 National Day of Prayer Proclamation

Nixon’s signature was secured during the National Day of Prayer, a tradition that began with Truman and has carried on to this day. President Trump sent Baker University a signed copy of the proclamation for the 2019 National Day of Prayer (above).

Carter and Reagan

Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan are two of the more religiously charged presidents of the US. Jimmy Carter was one of the more devout presidents, and drew on the Bible for many of his policies as President and as a humanitarian after his presidency. For his humanitarian work, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2002. Like Ford, he is one of the few Presidents that we have a photo signing the Bible. To get Carter’s signature, the Quayle Bible Collection reached out to the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta and Larry Winn Jr. Following Nixon’s example, Ronald Reagan appealed to the rising Evangelical population in the United States. Aligning himself with the President, Jerry Falwell declared that a large part of the population believed in strict morals. These people were the “Moral Majority” who supported Reagan’s policies that did not stray from a strict conservative Christian belief. This would affect the way Reagan dealt with the AIDS crisis and the “War on Drugs.”

Photograph of President Carter signing the Bible

Photograph of President Carter signing the Bible

A very devout Baptist, Jimmy Carter taught Sunday school up until the COVID-19 pandemic. He is seen here signing the Bible for the Quayle Collection.

New American Standard Bible

[Bible] New American Standard Bible. New York: A.J. Holman Company, 1960.

The New American Standard Bible first was published in 1960 and several versions came out into the 1980s. This was the Bible translation that the Quayle selected for Presidents Carter and Reagan to sign. In many ways, these presidents were two of the more outspoken presidents on topics of religion.

New American Standard Bible

[Bible] New American Standard Bible. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, ND.

President Reagan’s mother was a proponent of the “Social Gospel,” the theology that Christian Ethics should be used to deal with social issues. This theology determined much of President Reagan’s social policies while President.

Bush and Clinton

George H. W. Bush was raised as an Episcopalian, but many have speculated that he became an Evangelical later in life. Like Carter, Bush’s Christianity may have come out in his emphasis of social humanitarian work. In his “Thousand Points of Light” speech, he emphasizes that Americans should volunteer and support the needy. At his death, Bush’s son, President George W. Bush, invoked this speech proclaiming that his father was the brightest of those points. Although he was a Southern Baptist, Bill Clinton was not seen as the most religious president by many Evangelicals. Like his predecessors, Clinton’s religious sentiments may have come out more so in his humanitarian work. The Clinton administration and later Clinton foundation worked heavily to stop religious conflict throughout the world. In order to secure Bill Clinton’s signature, the Quayle Bible Collection had to appeal to John Carlin, a former governor of Kansas and the National Archivist during Clinton’s presidency.

New Revised Standard Version Bible signed by President Bush

[Bible] New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas A. Nelson, 1989.

The 1990s were an era of political unrest, controversy, and wars in eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. Both Presidents during this time had different moments of controversy and scandal. Some scholars suggest that the 90s and the rise of the internet is what will lead to a growing secular population in America. By the end of the 90s, over 5% of Americans will say that religion is not important. By 2020, that number will rise to almost 30%. However, President George H. W. Bush and William (Bill) J. Clinton were not only Christian, but both often appealed to religious sentiment in political and social issues. George Bush continued many of the social policies pushed by his predecessor, Reagan. And Clinton will work to heal many of the issues in the Middle East. The version that was selected for them to sign was the New Revised Standard Version. This text is still considered the most scholarly English version of the Bible to be produced. As the study of religion from a secular point of view rises in the 90s, this text is a fitting one for these Presidents. It can be as both religious and secular.

W. and O.

Like Reagan and Nixon, George W. Bush appealed heavily to Evangelicals in his campaign and presidency. However, he probably is not an Evangelical himself, but instead appealed to these sentiments for political support. Raised an Episcopalian, Bush became a Methodist after marrying. Faced with two of the largest disasters Americans had seen for many years, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina, Bush appealed to religion and the Bible to unite the country, much like his message seen here on this signed Bible. However, in an increasing religiously diverse country with a rising secular population, this appeal fell on many deaf ears. On the other hand, President Barack Obama felt heavy religious scrutiny when he ran for president. Given his father’s background and their life in Indonesia, many Evangelical Christians believed he was a Muslim, regardless of his church affiliation in Chicago. With this controversy, he was hesitant to sign a Bible for the Quayle Collection. He feared it would be used as a political statement or be sold. As a result, it took four years for him to sign the book. However, he agreed considering the significance the King James Bible had on the history of the world, the history of America, and the history of the Presidency.

The Message title page

[Bible] The Message. Eugene Patterson. New Revised Standard Version. Nashville: Thomas A. Nelson, 1989.

President Bush relied heavily on Evangelical Christian support, which would eventually define the Presidency of Donald Trump. Many of these supporters viewed the Bible and the Constitution as documents that were infallible and at risk from Liberal Democrats.

King James Bible Quatercentenary Edition

[Bible] KJV. Quatercentenary Edition (1611 Facsimile). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.

As a result of this, Barack Obama received quite the criticism for his belief. While he is a Christian, many of his critics believed he was a Muslim. His father was a Muslim from Kenya, and his mother, an anthropologist from Kansas, who spent a large time researching in Indonesia. As a result of this debate, he was very hesitant in signing a Bible for the Quayle. Regardless, the Bible he signed was in honor of the 400-year anniversary of the King James Version, which reached that milestone in 2011 during his Presidency. 

The Presidency and Religion

A Secular Nation?

Since the founding of the United States, Christianity has been the largest religion. However, did the founders consider the U.S. a Christian Nation? Thomas Jefferson and James Madison drew on the Virginia state constitution when they devised their ideas of “Freedom of Religion.” A concept derived from Enlightenment Europe which influenced the founders, they believed no person should be forced to practice a particular religion or that their religious beliefs/non-beliefs would affect their livelihood. Does this simply mean protection for Christians? In 1796 George Washington and his administration authored the Treaty of Tripoli with the Ottoman Empire that stated, “the Government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” In 1802 the Danbury Baptist Association asked Jefferson about the issue. He stated that there was “a wall of separation between Church and State.” No official religion would be established for the United States. As Presidents came and went through the White House, their opinions and religious beliefs differed, and the debate still continues today.

The Presidents and Religion

Even in the height of Islamophobia, studies show that Americans are more likely to vote for a Muslim candidate than an Atheist. Every President has been associated with Christianity with the exception of Lincoln and Jefferson. As a result, religion is a major part of the Presidential campaign and debates. In the 2008 campaign, Mitt Romney possibly lost his bid for the Republican Party Candidacy as a result of Americans being unsure about supporting a Mormon candidate for president. JFK was questioned about his Catholicism and his allegiance to the papacy. It was suggested that Obama was not Christian, and Donald Trump often has to reassert his Presbyterian affiliation. Most of the presidents were Protestant with Episcopalian being the most common denomination. Both Nixon and Hoover were the only Quaker presidents. And as a Southern Baptist, Jimmy Carter may have been the most outwardly religious president, teaching Sunday school well into his nineties.

“Under God” and “In God We Trust”

During Dwight D. Eisenhower’s presidency, two of the more controversial phrases were added to America’s debate about religious freedom. The native Kansan has an interesting religious background. Although his family seemed fairly religious and his mother was a Jehovah’s Witness, he did not join a church until his presidency when he became a Presbyterian. After this recent affirmation, he supported and signed a bill on Flag Day in 1954 that would put the words “under God” into the Pledge of Allegiance. In 1956, he and Congress worked to make “In God We Trust” the official motto of the United States. While it occasionally appeared on some legal tender, he signed a bill that made the phrase appear on all coins and paper money. Both phrases have been called into question as a violation of “Separation of Church and State;” however, defenders of the slogan, including judges, have said that the slogan is intended to be secular.

Campaign Debates and the Inauguration

The tradition of “swearing on the Bible” while taking the Oath of Office first began when Washington “borrowed” an altar Bible to use. He flipped the book open to a random page, Genesis 49:13, and after swearing the oath, he kissed the Bible. Eisenhower did not kiss the Bible, ending that tradition, but with three exceptions every president has been sworn in on a Bible. After the death of JFK, Lyndon B. Johnson, a member of the Disciples of Christ, swore on a Catholic missal on Air Force One. John Quincy Adams swore on a law book as representative of the Constitution. And after the death of McKinley, Teddy Roosevelt did not use anything. He simply raised his hand. Some presidents used special texts; Obama and Trump both swore on the Bible used by Lincoln. Ironically, the Bible says not to swear oaths; as a result there is the option to “affirm” your oath. Only Franklin Pierce took this option. It is unclear if all Presidents used the phrase “so help me God” to end the oath, but many suggest Washington started the tradition, even if it is not historically documented.

For Further Reading